Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

3.2: Personality and Perception in Intrapersonal Communication

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    ( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorA}[1]{\vec{#1}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorAt}[1]{\vec{\text{#1}}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorB}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorC}[1]{\textbf{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorD}[1]{\overrightarrow{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorDt}[1]{\overrightarrow{\text{#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectE}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash{\mathbf {#1}}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \(\newcommand{\avec}{\mathbf a}\) \(\newcommand{\bvec}{\mathbf b}\) \(\newcommand{\cvec}{\mathbf c}\) \(\newcommand{\dvec}{\mathbf d}\) \(\newcommand{\dtil}{\widetilde{\mathbf d}}\) \(\newcommand{\evec}{\mathbf e}\) \(\newcommand{\fvec}{\mathbf f}\) \(\newcommand{\nvec}{\mathbf n}\) \(\newcommand{\pvec}{\mathbf p}\) \(\newcommand{\qvec}{\mathbf q}\) \(\newcommand{\svec}{\mathbf s}\) \(\newcommand{\tvec}{\mathbf t}\) \(\newcommand{\uvec}{\mathbf u}\) \(\newcommand{\vvec}{\mathbf v}\) \(\newcommand{\wvec}{\mathbf w}\) \(\newcommand{\xvec}{\mathbf x}\) \(\newcommand{\yvec}{\mathbf y}\) \(\newcommand{\zvec}{\mathbf z}\) \(\newcommand{\rvec}{\mathbf r}\) \(\newcommand{\mvec}{\mathbf m}\) \(\newcommand{\zerovec}{\mathbf 0}\) \(\newcommand{\onevec}{\mathbf 1}\) \(\newcommand{\real}{\mathbb R}\) \(\newcommand{\twovec}[2]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\ctwovec}[2]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\threevec}[3]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\cthreevec}[3]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\fourvec}[4]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\cfourvec}[4]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\fivevec}[5]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \\ #5 \\ \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\cfivevec}[5]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \\ #5 \\ \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\mattwo}[4]{\left[\begin{array}{rr}#1 \amp #2 \\ #3 \amp #4 \\ \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\laspan}[1]{\text{Span}\{#1\}}\) \(\newcommand{\bcal}{\cal B}\) \(\newcommand{\ccal}{\cal C}\) \(\newcommand{\scal}{\cal S}\) \(\newcommand{\wcal}{\cal W}\) \(\newcommand{\ecal}{\cal E}\) \(\newcommand{\coords}[2]{\left\{#1\right\}_{#2}}\) \(\newcommand{\gray}[1]{\color{gray}{#1}}\) \(\newcommand{\lgray}[1]{\color{lightgray}{#1}}\) \(\newcommand{\rank}{\operatorname{rank}}\) \(\newcommand{\row}{\text{Row}}\) \(\newcommand{\col}{\text{Col}}\) \(\renewcommand{\row}{\text{Row}}\) \(\newcommand{\nul}{\text{Nul}}\) \(\newcommand{\var}{\text{Var}}\) \(\newcommand{\corr}{\text{corr}}\) \(\newcommand{\len}[1]{\left|#1\right|}\) \(\newcommand{\bbar}{\overline{\bvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\bhat}{\widehat{\bvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\bperp}{\bvec^\perp}\) \(\newcommand{\xhat}{\widehat{\xvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\vhat}{\widehat{\vvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\uhat}{\widehat{\uvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\what}{\widehat{\wvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\Sighat}{\widehat{\Sigma}}\) \(\newcommand{\lt}{<}\) \(\newcommand{\gt}{>}\) \(\newcommand{\amp}{&}\) \(\definecolor{fillinmathshade}{gray}{0.9}\)
    Learning Outcomes
    1. Define and differentiate between the terms personality and temperament.
    2. Explain common temperament types seen in both research and pop culture.
    3. Categorize personality traits as either cognitive dispositions or personal-social dispositions.

    After the previous discussions of self-concept, self-image, and self-esteem, it should be obvious that the statements and judgments of others and your view of yourself can affect your communication with others. Additional factors, such as your personality and perception, affect communication as well. Let us next examine these factors and the influence each has on communication.


    Personality is defined as the combination of traits or qualities—such as behavior, emotional stability, and mental attributes—that make a person unique. Before going further, let’s quickly examine some of the research related to personality. John Daly categorizes personality into four general categories: cognitive dispositions, personal-social dispositions, communicative dispositions, and relational dispositions.27 Before we delve into these four categories of personality, let’s take a quick look at two common themes in this area of research: nature or nurture and temperament.

    Nature or Nurture

    One of the oldest debates in the area of personality research is whether a specific behavior or thought process occurs within an individual because of their nature (genetics) or nurture (how he/she/they were raised). The first person to start investigating this phenomenon was Sir Francis Galton back in the 1870s.28 In 1875, Galton sought out twins and their families to learn more about similarities and differences. As a whole, Galton found that there were more similarities than differences: “There is no escape from the conclusion that nature prevails enormously over nurture when the differences of nurture do not exceed what is commonly to be found among persons of the same rank of society and in the same country.”29 However, the reality is that Galton’s twin participants had been raised together, so parsing out nature and nurture (despite Galton’s attempts) wasn’t completely possible. Although Galton’s anecdotes provided some interesting stories, that’s all they amounted to.

    Minnesota Twins Raised Apart

    So, how does one determine if something ultimately nature or nurture? The next breakthrough in this line of research started in the late 1970s when Thomas J. Bouchard and his colleagues at Minnesota State University began studying twins who were raised separately.30 This research started when a pair of twins, Jim Lewis and Jim Springer, were featured in an article on February 19, 1979, in the Lima News in Lima, Ohio.31 Jim and Jim were placed in an adoption agency and separated from each other at four weeks of age. They grew up just 40 miles away from each other, but they never knew the other one existed. Jess and Sarah Springer and Ernest and Lucille Lewis were looking to adopt, and both sets of parents were told that their Jim had been a twin, but they were also told that his twin had died. Many adoption agencies believed that placing twins with couples was difficult, so this practice of separating twins at birth was an inside practice that the adoptive parents knew nothing about. Jim Lewis’ mother had found out that Jim’s twin was still alive when he was toddler, so Jim Lewis knew that he had a twin but didn’t seek him out until he was 39 years old. Jim Springer, on the other hand, learned that he had been a twin when he was eight years old, but he believed the original narrative that his twin had died.

    As you can imagine, Jim Springer was pretty shocked when he received a telephone message with his twin’s contact information out of nowhere one day. The February 19th article in the Lima News was initially supposed to be a profile piece on one of the Springers’ brothers, but the reporter covering the wedding found Lewis and Springer’s tale fascinating. The reporter found several striking similarities between the twins:32

    • Their favorite subject in school was math
    • Both hated spelling in school
    • Their favorite vacation spot was Pas Grille Beach in Florida
    • Both had previously been in law enforcement
    • They both enjoyed carpentry as a hobby
    • Both were married to women named Betty
    • Both were divorced from women named Linda
    • Both had a dog named “Toy”
    • Both started suffering from tension headaches when they were 18
    • Even their sons’ names were oddly similar (James Alan and James Allan)

    This sensationalist story caught the attention of Bouchard because this opportunity allowed him and his colleagues to study the influence rearing had on twins in a way that wasn’t possible when studying twins who were raised together.

    Over the next decade, Bouchard and his team of researchers would seek out and interview over 100 different pairs of twins or sets of triplets who had been raised apart.33 The researchers were able to compare those twins to twins who were reared together. As a whole, they found more similarities between the two twin groups than they found differences. This set of studies is one of many that have been conducted using twins over the years to help us understand the interrelationship between rearing and genetics.

    Twin Research in Communication

    In the field of communication, the first major twin study published was conducted by Cary Wecht Horvath in 1995.34 In her study, Horvath compared 62 pairs of identical twins and 42 pairs of fraternal twins to see if they differed in terms of their communicator style, or “the way one verbally, nonverbally, and paraverbally interacts to signal how literal meaning should be taken, filtered, or understood.”35 Ultimately, Horvath found that identical twins’ communicator styles were more similar than those of fraternal twins. Hence, a good proportion of someone’s communicator style appears to be a result of someone’s genetic makeup. However, this is not to say that genetics was the only factor at play about someone’s communicator style.

    Other research in the field of communication has examined how a range of different communication variables are associated with genetics when analyzed through twin studies:36,37, 38

    • Interpersonal Affiliation
    • Aggressiveness
    • Social Anxiety
    • Audience Anxiety
    • Self-Perceived Communication Competence
    • Willingness to Communicate
    • Communicator Adaptability

    It’s important to realize that the authors of this book do not assume nor promote that all of our communication is biological. Still, we also cannot dismiss the importance that genetics plays in our communicative behavior and development. Here is our view of the interrelationship among environment and genetics. Imagine we have two twins that were separated at birth. One twin is put into a middle-class family where she will be exposed to a lot of opportunities. The other twin, on the other hand, was placed with a lower-income family where the opportunities she will have in life are more limited. The first twin goes to a school that has lots of money and award-winning teachers. The second twin goes to an inner-city school where there aren’t enough textbooks for the students, and the school has problems recruiting and retaining qualified teachers. The first student has the opportunity to engage in a wide range of extracurricular activities both in school (mock UN, debate, student council, etc.) and out of school (traveling softball club, skiing, yoga, etc.). The second twin’s school doesn’t have the budget for extracurricular activities, and her family cannot afford out of school activities, so she ends up taking a job when she’s a teenager. Now imagine that these twins are naturally aggressive. The first twin’s aggressiveness may be exhibited by her need to win in both mock UN and debate; she may also strive to not only sit on the student council but be its president. In this respect, she demonstrates more prosocial forms of aggression. The second twin, on the other hand, doesn’t have these more prosocial outlets for her aggression. As such, her aggression may be demonstrated through more interpersonal problems with her family, teachers, friends, etc.… Instead of having those more positive outlets for her aggression, she may become more physically aggressive in her day-to-day life. In other words, we do believe that the context and the world where a child is reared is very important to how they display communicative behaviors, even if those communicative behaviors have biological underpinnings.

    Temperament Types

    Temperament is the genetic predisposition that causes an individual to behave, react, and think in a specific manner. The notion that people have fundamentally different temperaments dates back to the Greek physician Hippocrates, known today as the father of medicine, who first wrote of four temperaments in 370 BCE: Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic, and Melancholic. Although closely related, temperament and personality refer to two different constructs. Jan Strelau explains that temperament and personality differ in five specific ways:

    1. Temperament is biologically determined where personality is a product of the social environment.
    2. Temperamental features may be identified from early childhood, whereas personality is shaped in later periods of development.
    3. Individual differences in temperamental traits like anxiety, extraversion-introversion, and stimulus-seeking are also observed in animals, whereas personality is the prerogative of humans.
    4. Temperament stands for stylistic aspects. Personality for the content aspect of behavior.
    5. Unlike temperament, personality refers to the integrative function of human behavior.39

    In 1978, David Keirsey developed the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, a questionnaire that combines the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator with a model of four temperament types developed by psychiatrist Ernst Kretschmer in the early 20th century.40 Take a minute and go to David Keirsey’s website and complete his four-personality type questionnaire ( You’ll also be able to learn a lot more about the four-type personality system.

    In reality, there are a ton of four-type personality system systems that have been created over the years. Table 3.1 provides just a number of the different four-type personality system that are available on the market today. Each one has its quirks and patterns, but the basic results are generally the same.

    Table 3.2.1 Comparing 4-Personality Types
    Hippocrates Greek Terms Sanguine Melancholy Choleric Phlegmatic
    Wired that Way





    Keirsy Temperament (1967)




    Identity Seeking

    Carl Jung’s Theory (1921) Feeling Thinking Sensing Intuition
    Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (1962)





    “What’s My Style?” (WMS) Spirited Systematic Direct Considerate
    The P’s Popular Perfect Powerful Peaceful
    The S’s Spirited Systematic Self-propelled Solid
    The A’s Active Analytical Administrative Amiable
    LEAD Test Expressor Analyst Leader Dependable
    Biblical Characters Peter Moses Paul Abraham
    DiSC Influencing of Others Cautiousness/Compliance Dominance Steadiness
    McCarthy/4MAT System Dynamic Analytic Common Sense Innovative
    Plato (340 BC) Artisan Scientist Guardian Philosopher





    True Colors Orange Gold Green Blue
    Children’s Literature Tigger Eeyore Rabbit Pooh
    Charlie Brown Characters Snoopy Linus Lucy Charlie Brown
    Who Moved My Cheese? Scurry Hem Sniff Haw
    Eysenck’s EPQ-R

    Low Neurotic

    Low Extravert
    High Neurotic

    High Extravert
    High Neurotic

    Low Extravert
    Low Neurotic

    And before you ask, none of the research examining the four types has found clear sex differences among the patterns. Females and males are seen proportionately in all four categories.

    For example, training publisher HRDQ publishes the “What’s My Style?” series (www., and has applied the four-personalities to the following workplace issues: coaching, communication, leadership, learning, selling, teams, and time management.

    David Keirsey argues that the consistent use of the four temperament types (whatever terms we use) is an indication of the long-standing tradition and complexity of these ideas.41

    The Big Five

    In the world of personality, one of the most commonly discussed concepts in research is the Big Five. In the late 1950s, Ernest C. Tupes and Raymond E. Christal conducted a series of studies examining a model of personality.42,43 Ultimately, they found five consistent personality clusters they labeled: surgency, agreeableness, dependability, emotional stability, and culture). Listed below are the five broad personality categories with the personality trait words in parentheses that were associated with these categories:

    1. Surgency (silent vs. talkative; secretive vs. frank; cautious vs. adventurous; submissive vs. assertive; and languid, slow vs. energetic)
    2. Agreeableness (spiteful vs. good-natured; obstructive vs. cooperative; suspicious vs. trustful; rigid vs. adaptable; cool, aloof vs. attentive to people; jealous vs. not so; demanding vs. emotionally mature; self-willed vs. mild; and hard, stern vs. kindly)
    3. Dependability (frivolous vs. responsible and unscrupulous vs. conscientious; indolent vs. insistently orderly; quitting vs. persevering; and unconventional vs. conventional)
    4. Emotional Stability (worrying, anxious vs. placid; easily upset vs. poised, tough; changeable vs. emotionally stable; neurotic vs. not so; hypochondriacal vs. not so; and emotional vs. calm)
    5. Culture (boorish vs. intellectual, cultured; clumsy, awkward vs. polished; immature vs. independent-minded; lacking artistic feelings vs. esthetically fastidious, practical, logical vs. imaginative)

    Although Tupes and Christal were first, they were not the only psychologists researching the idea of personality clusters.

    Two other researchers, Robert R. McCrae and Paul T. Costa, expanded on Tupes and Christal’s work to create the OCEAN Model of personality. McCrae and Costa originally started examining just three parts of the model, openness, neuroticism, and extroversion,44 but the model was later expanded to include both conscientiousness and agreeableness (Figure 3.2.1).45 Before progressing forward, take a minute and complete one of the many different freely available tests of the Five Factor Model of Personality:

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): OCEAN Model for Personality (The Big Five)


    Openness refers to “openness to experience,” or the idea that some people are more welcoming of new things. These people are willing to challenge their underlying life assumptions and are more likely to be amenable to differing points of view. Table 3.2.2 explores some of the traits associated with having both high levels of openness and having low levels of openness.

    Table 3.2.2 Openness
    High Openness Low Openness
    Original Conventional
    Creative Down to Earth
    Complex Narrow Interests
    Curious Unadventurous
    Prefer Variety Conforming
    Independent Traditional
    Liberal Unartistic


    Conscientiousness is the degree to which an individual is aware of their actions and how their actions impact other people. Table 3.2.3 explores some of the traits associated with having both high levels of conscientiousness and having low levels of conscientiousness.

    Table 3.2.3 Conscientiousness
    High Conscientiousness Low Conscientiousness
    Careful Negligent
    Reliable Disorganized
    Hard-Working Impractical
    Self-Disciplined Thoughtless
    Punctual Playful
    Deliberate Quitting
    Knowledgeable Uncultured


    Extraversion is the degree to which someone is sociable and outgoing. Table 3.2.4 explores some of the traits associated with having both high levels of extraversion and having low levels of extraversion.

    Table 3.2.4 Extraversion
    High Extraversion Low Extraversion
    Sociable Sober
    Fun Loving Reserved
    Friendly Quiet
    Talkative Unfeeling
    Warm Lonely
    Person-Oriented Task-Oriented
    Dominant Timid


    Agreeableness is the degree to which someone engages in prosocial behaviors like altruism, cooperation, and compassion. Table 3.2.5 explores some of the traits associated with having both high levels of agreeableness and having low levels of agreeableness.

    Table 3.2.5 Agreeableness
    High Agreeableness Low Agreeableness
    Good-Natured Irritable
    Soft Hearted Selfish
    Sympathetic Suspicious
    Forgiving Critical
    Open-Minded Disagreeable
    Flexible Cynical
    Humble Manipulative


    Neuroticism is the degree to which an individual is vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and emotional instability. Table 3.2.6 explores some of the traits associated with having both high levels of neuroticism and having low levels of neuroticism.

    Table 3.2.6 Neuroticism
    High Neuroticism Low Neuroticism
    Nervous Calm
    High-Strung Unemotional
    Impatient Secure
    Envious/Jealous Comfortable
    Self-Conscious Not impulse ridden
    Temperamental Hardy
    Subjective Relaxed
    Research Spotlight

    Research Spotlight.PNGIn 2018, Yukti Mehta and Richard Hicks set out to examine the relationship between the Big Five Personality Types (openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extroversion, & neuroticism) and the Five Facets of Mindfulness Measure (observation, description, aware actions, non-judgmental inner experience, & nonreactivity). For the purposes of this study, the researchers collapsed the five facets of mindfulness into a single score. The researchers found that openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and extroversion were positively related to mindfulness, but neuroticism was negatively related to mindfulness.

    Mehta, Y., & Hicks, R. E. (2018). The Big Five, mindfulness, and psychological wellbeing. Global Science and Technology Forum (GSTF) Journal of Psychology, 4(1). doi. org/10.5176/2345-7929_4.1.103

    Cognitive Dispositions

    Cognitive dispositions refer to general patterns of mental processes that impact how people respond and react to the world around them. These dispositions (or one’s natural mental or emotional outlook) take on several different forms. For our purposes, we’ll briefly examine the four identified by John Daly: locus of control, cognitive complexity, authoritarianism/dogmatism, and emotional intelligence.46

    Locus of Control

    One’s locus of control refers to an individual’s perceived control over their behavior and life circumstances. We generally refer to two different loci when discussing locus of control. First, we have people who have an internal locus of control. People with an internal locus of control believe that they can control their behavior and life circumstances. For example, people with an internal dating locus of control would believe that their dating lives are ultimately a product of their behaviors and decisions with regard to dating. In other words, my dating life exists because of my choices. The opposite of internal locus of control is the external locus of control, or the belief that an individual’s behavior and circumstances exist because of forces outside the individual’s control. An individual with an external dating locus of control would believe that their dating life is a matter of luck or divine intervention. This individual would also be more likely to blame outside forces if their dating life isn’t going as desired. We’ll periodically revisit locus of control in this text because of its importance in a wide variety of interpersonal interactions.

    Cognitive Complexity

    According to John Daly, cognitive “complexity has been defined in terms of the number of different constructs an individual has to describe others (differentiation), the degree to which those constructs cohere (integration), and the level of abstraction of the constructs (abstractiveness).”47By differentiation, we are talking about the number of distinctions or separate elements an individual can utilize to recognize and interpret an event. For example, in the world of communication, someone who can attend to another individual’s body language to a great degree can differentiate large amounts of nonverbal data in a way to understand how another person is thinking or feeling. Someone low in differentiation may only be able to understand a small number of pronounced nonverbal behaviors.

    Integration, on the other hand, refers to an individual’s ability to see connections or relationships among the various elements he or she has differentiated. It’s one thing to recognize several unique nonverbal behaviors, but it’s the ability to interpret nonverbal behaviors that enables someone to be genuinely aware of someone else’s body language. It would be one thing if I could recognize that someone is smiling, an eyebrow is going up, the head is tilted, and someone’s arms are crossed in front. Still, if I cannot see all of these unique behaviors as a total package, then I’m not going to be able to interpret this person’s actual nonverbal behavior

    The last part of Daly’s definition involves the ability to see levels of abstraction. Abstraction refers to something which exists apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances. For example, if someone to come right out and verbally tell you that he or she disagrees with something you said, then this person is concretely communicating disagreement, so as the receiver of the disagreement, it should be pretty easy to interpret the disagreement. On the other hand, if someone doesn’t tell you he or she disagrees with what you’ve said but instead provides only small nonverbal cues of disagreement, being able to interpret those theoretical cues is attending to communicative behavior that is considerably more abstract.

    Overall, cognitive complexity is a critical cognitive disposition because it directly impacts interpersonal relationships. According to Brant Burleson and Scott Caplan,48 cognitive complexity impacts several interpersonal constructs:

    1. Form more detailed and organized impressions of others;
    2. Better able to remember impressions of others;
    3. Better able to resolve inconsistencies in information about others;
    4. Learn complex social information quickly; and
    5. Use multiple dimensions of judgment in making social evaluations.

    In essence, these findings clearly illustrate that cognitive complexity is essential when determining the extent to which an individual can understand and make judgments about others in interpersonal interactions.


    According to Jason Wrench, James C. McCroskey, and Virginia Richmond, two personality characteristics that commonly impact interpersonal communication are authoritarianism and dogmatism.49 Authoritarianism is a form of social organization where individuals favor absolute obedience to authority (or authorities) as opposed to individual freedom. The highly authoritarian individual believes that individuals should just knowingly submit to their power. Individuals who believe in authoritarianism but are not in power believe that others should submit themselves to those who have power.

    Dogmatism, although closely related, is not the same thing as authoritarianism. Dogmatism is defined as the inclination to believe one’s point-of-view as undeniably true based on faulty premises and without consideration of evidence and the opinions of others. Individuals who are highly dogmatic believe there is generally only one point-of-view on a specific topic, and it’s their point-of-view. Highly dogmatic individuals typically view the world in terms of “black and white” while missing most of the shades of grey that exist between. Dogmatic people tend to force their beliefs on others and refuse to accept any variation or debate about these beliefs, which can lead to strained interpersonal interactions. Both authoritarianism and dogmatism “tap into the same broad idea: Some people are more rigid than others, and this rigidity affects both how they communicate and how they respond to communication.” 50

    One closely related term that has received some minor exploration in interpersonal communication is right-wing authoritarianism. According to Bob Altemeyer in his book The Authoritarians (members., right-wing authoritarians (RWAs) tend to have three specific characteristics:

    1. RWAs believe in submitting themselves to individuals they perceive as established and legitimate authorities.
    2. RWAs believe in strict adherence to social and cultural norms.
    3. RWAs tend to become aggressive towards those who do not submit to established, legitimate authorities and those who violate social and cultural norms.

    Please understand that Altemeyer’s use of the term “right-wing” does not imply the same political connotation that is often associated with it in the United States. As Altemeyer explains, “Because the submission occurs to traditional authority, I call these followers right-wing authoritarians. I’m using the word “right” in one of its earliest meanings, for in Old English ‘right’ (pronounced ‘writ’) as an adjective meant lawful, proper, correct, doing what the authorities said of others.”51 Under this definition, rightwing authoritarianism is the perfect combination of both dogmatism and authoritarianism.

    Right-wing authoritarianism has been linked to several interpersonal variables. For example, parents/ guardians who are RWAs are more likely to believe in a highly dogmatic approach to parenting. In contrast, those who are not RWAs tend to be more permissive in their approaches to parenting.52 Another study found that men with high levels of RWA were more likely to have been sexually aggressive in the past and were more likely to report sexually aggressive intentions for the future.53 Men with high RWA scores tend to be considerably more sexist and believe in highly traditional sex roles, which impacts how they communicate and interact with women. 54 Overall, RWA tends to negatively impact interpersonal interactions with anyone who does not see an individual’s specific world view and does not come from their cultural background.

    Emotional Intelligence

    Emotional intelligence is an individual’s appraisal and expression of their emotions and the emotions of others in a manner that enhances thought, living, and communicative interactions. Emotional intelligence, while not a new concept, really became popular after Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence. 55 Social psychologists had been interested in and studying the importance of emotions long before Goleman’s book, but his book seemed to shed new light on an old idea.56 Goleman drew quite a bit on a framework that was created by two social psychologists named Peter Salovey and John Mayer, who had coined the term “emotional intelligence” in an article in 1990.57 In the Salovey and Mayer framework for emotional intelligence, emotional intelligence consisted of four basic processes. Figure 3.2.2 pictorially demonstrates the four basic parts of Salovey and Mayer’s Emotional Intelligence Model.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Salovey and Mayer’s Emotional Intelligence Model

    Emotional intelligence (EQ) is important for interpersonal communication because individuals who are higher in EQ tend to be more sociable and less socially anxious. As a result of both sociability and lowered anxiety, high EQ individuals tend to be more socially skilled and have higher quality interpersonal relationships

    A closely related communication construct originally coined by Melanie and Steven Booth-Butterfield is affective orientation. 58 As it is conceptualized by the Booth-Butterfields, affective orientation (AO) is “the degree to which people are aware of their emotions, perceive them as important, and actively consider their affective responses in making judgments and interacting with others.” 59 Under the auspices of AO, the general assumption is that highly affective-oriented people are (1) cognitively aware of their own and others’ emotions, and (2) can implement emotional information in communication with others. Not surprisingly, the Booth-Butterfields found that highly affective-oriented individuals also reported greater affect intensity in their relationships.

    Melanie and Steven Booth-Butterfield later furthered their understanding of AO by examining it in terms of how an individual’s emotions drive their decisions in life.60 As the Booth-Butterfields explain, in their further conceptualization of AO, they “are primarily interested in those individuals who not only sense and value their emotions but scrutinize and give them weight to direct behavior.” 61 In this sense, the Booth-Butterfields are expanding our notion of AO by explaining that some individuals use their emotions as a guiding force for their behaviors and their lives. On the other end of the spectrum, you have individuals who use no emotional information in how they behave and guide their lives. Although relatively little research has examined AO, the conducted research indicates its importance in interpersonal relationships. For example, in one study, individuals who viewed their parents/guardians as having high AO levels reported more open communication with those parents/guardians.62

    Personal-Social Dispositions

    Social-personal dispositions refer to general patterns of mental processes that impact how people socially relate to others or view themselves. All of the following dispositions impact how people interact with others, but they do so from very different places. Without going into too much detail, we are going to examine the seven personal-social dispositions identified by John Daly. 63


    The first social-personal disposition is loneliness or an individual’s emotional distress that results from a feeling of solitude or isolation from social relationships. Loneliness can generally be discussed as existing in one of two forms: emotional and social. Emotional loneliness results when an individual feels that he or she does not have an emotional connection with others. We generally get these emotional connections through our associations with loved ones and close friends. If an individual is estranged from their family or doesn’t have close friendships, then he or she may feel loneliness as a result of a lack of these emotional relationships. Social loneliness, on the other hand, results from a lack of a satisfying social network. Imagine you’re someone who has historically been very social. Still, you move to a new city and find building new social relationships very difficult because the people in the new location are very cliquey. The inability to develop a new social network can lead someone to feelings of loneliness because he or she may feel a sense of social boredom or marginalization.

    Loneliness tends to impact people in several different ways interpersonally. Some of the general research findings associated with loneliness have demonstrated that these people have lower self-esteem, are more socially passive, are more sensitive to rejection from others, and are often less socially skilled. Interestingly, lonely individuals tend to think of their interpersonal failures using an internal locus of control and their interpersonal successes externally.64


    Depression is a psychological disorder characterized by varying degrees of disappointment, guilt, hopelessness, loneliness, sadness, and self-doubt, all of which negatively impact a person’s general mental and physical wellbeing. Depression (and all of its characteristics) is very difficult to encapsulate in a single definition. If you’ve ever experienced a major depressive episode, it’s a lot easier to understand what depression is compared to those who have never experienced one. Depressed people tend to be less satisfied with life and less satisfied with their interpersonal interactions as well. Research has shown that depression negatively impacts all forms of interpersonal relationships: dating, friends, families, work, etc. We will periodically come back to depression as we explore various parts of interpersonal communication.


    As discussed earlier in this chapter, self-esteem consists of your sense of self-worth and the level of satisfaction you have with yourself; it is how you feel about yourself. A good self-image raises your self-esteem; a poor self-image often results in poor self-esteem, lack of confidence, and insecurity. Not surprisingly, individuals with low self-esteem tend to have more problematic interpersonal relationships.


    Ovid’s story of Narcissus and Echo has been passed down through the ages. The story starts with a Mountain Nymph named Echo who falls in love with a human named Narcissus. When Echo reveals herself to Narcissus, he rejects her. In true Roman fashion, this slight could not be left unpunished. Echo eventually leads Narcissus to a pool of water where he quickly falls in love with his reflection. He ultimately dies, staring at himself, because he realizes that his love will never be met.

    The modern conceptualization of narcissism is based on Ovid’s story of Narcissus. Today researchers view narcissism as a psychological condition (or personality disorder) in which a person has a preoccupation with one’s self, an inflated sense of one’s importance, and longing of admiration from others. Highly narcissistic individuals are completely self-focused and tend to ignore the communicative needs and emotions of others. In fact, in social situations, highly narcissistic individuals strive to be the center of attention.

    Anita Vangelisti, Mark Knapp, and John Daly examined a purely communicative form of narcissism they deemed conversational narcissism.65 Conversational narcissism is an extreme focusing of one’s interests and desires during an interpersonal interaction while completely ignoring the interests and desires of another person: Vangelisti, Knapp, and Daly fond four general categories of conversationally narcissistic behavior. First, conversational narcissists inflate their self-importance while displaying an inflated self-image. Some behaviors include bragging, refusing to listen to criticism, praising one’s self, etc. Second, conversational narcissists exploit a conversation by attempting to focus the direction of the conversation on topics of interest to them. Some behaviors include talking so fast others cannot interject, shifting the topic to one’s self, interrupting others, etc. Third, conversational narcissists are exhibitionists, or they attempt to show-off or entertain others to turn the focus on themselves. Some behaviors include primping or preening, dressing to attract attention, being or laughing louder than others, positioning one’s self in the center, etc. Lastly, conversational narcissists tend to have impersonal relationships. During their interactions with others, conversational narcissists show a lack of caring about another person and a lack of interest in another person. Some common behaviors include “glazing over” while someone else is speaking, looking impatient while someone is speaking, looking around the room while someone is speaking, etc. As you can imagine, people engaged in interpersonal encounters with conversational narcissists are generally highly unsatisfied with those interactions.


    In 1513, Nicolo Machiavelli (Figure 3.2.3) wrote a text called The Prince ( files/1232/1232-h/1232-h.htm). Although Machiavelli dedicated the book to Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, who was a member of the ruling Florentine Medici family, the book was originally scribed for Lorenzo’s uncle. In The Prince, Nicolo Machiavelli unabashedly describes how he believes leaders should keep power. First, he notes that traditional leadership virtues like decency, honor, and trust should be discarded for a more calculating approach to leadership. Most specifically, Machiavelli believed that humans were easily manipulated, so ultimately, leaders can either be the ones influencing their followers or wait for someone else to wield that influence in a different direction.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Nicolo Machiavelli

    In 1970, two social psychologists named Richard Christie and Florence Geis decided to see if Machiavelli’s ideas were still in practice in the 20th Century.66 The basic model that Christie and Geis proposed consisted of four basic Machiavellian characteristics:

    1. Lack of affect in interpersonal relationships (relationships are a means to an end);
    2. Lack of concern with conventional morality (people are tools to be used in the best way possible);
    3. Rational view of others not based on psychopathology (people who actively manipulate others must be logical and rational); and
    4. Focused on short-term tasks rather than long-range ramifications of behavior (these individuals have little ideological/ organizational commitment).

    Imagine working with one of these people. Imagine being led by one of these people. Part of their research consisted of creating a research questionnaire to measure one’s tendency towards Machiavellianism. The questionnaire has undergone several revisions, but the most common one is called the Mach IV (personality-testing. info/tests/MACH-IV.php).

    Interpersonally, highly Machiavellian people tend to see people as stepping stones to get what they want. If talking to someone in a particular manner makes that other people feel good about themself, the Machiavellian has no problem doing this if it helps the Machiavellian get what he or she wants. Ultimately, Machiavellian behavior is very problematic. In interpersonal interactions where the receiver of a Machiavellian’s attempt of manipulation is aware of the manipulation, the receiver tends to be highly unsatisfied with these communicative interactions. However, someone who is truly adept at the art of manipulation may be harder to recognize than most people realize.


    Empathy is the ability to recognize and mutually experience another person’s attitudes, emotions, experiences, and thoughts. Highly empathic individuals have the unique ability to connect with others interpersonally, because they can truly see how the other person is viewing life. Individuals who are unempathetic generally have a hard time taking or seeing another person’s perspective, so their interpersonal interactions tend to be more rigid and less emotionally driven. Generally speaking, people who have high levels of empathy tend to have more successful and rewarding interactions with others when compared to unempathetic individuals. Furthermore, people who are interacting with a highly empathetic person tend to find those interactions more satisfying than when interacting with someone who is unempathetic.


    The last of the personal-social dispositions is referred to as self-monitoring. In 1974 Mark Snyder developed his basic theory of self-monitoring, which proposes that individuals differ in the degree to which they can control their behaviors following the appropriate social rules and norms involved in interpersonal interaction.67 In this theory, Snyder proposes that there are some individuals adept at selecting appropriate behavior in light of the context of a situation, which he deems high self-monitors. High self-monitors want others to view them in a precise manner (impression management), so they enact communicative behaviors that ensure suitable or favorable public appearances. On the other hand, some people are merely unconcerned with how others view them and will act consistently across differing communicative contexts despite the changes in cultural rules and norms. Snyder called these people low self-monitors.

    Interpersonally, high self-monitors tend to have more meaningful and satisfying interpersonal interactions with others. Conversely, individuals who are low self-monitors tend to have more problematic and less satisfying interpersonal relationships with others. In romantic relationships, high self-monitors tend to develop relational intimacy much faster than individuals who are low self-monitors. Furthermore, high self-monitors tend to build lots of interpersonal friendships with a broad range of people. Low-self-monitors may only have a small handful of friends, but these friendships tend to have more depth. Furthermore, high self-monitors are also more likely to take on leadership positions and get promoted in an organization when compared to their low self-monitoring counterparts. Overall, self-monitoring is an important dispositional characteristic that impacts interpersonal relationships.

    Key Takeaways
    • Personality and temperament have many overlapping characteristics, but the basis of them is fundamentally different. Personality is the product of one’s social environment and is generally developed later in one’s life. Temperament, on the other hand, is one’s innate genetic predisposition that causes an individual to behave, react, and think in a specific manner, and it can easily be seen in infants.
    • In both the scientific literature and in pop culture, there are many personality/ temperament schemes that involve four specific parts. Table 3.1, in this chapter, showed a range of different personality quizzes/measures/tests that break temperament down into these four generic categories.
    • In this section, we examined a range of different cognitive dispositions or personal-social dispositions. The cognitive dispositions (general patterns of mental processes that impact how people respond and react to the world around them) discussed in this chapter were the locus of control, cognitive complexity, authoritarianism, dogmatism, emotional intelligence, and AO. The social-personal dispositions (general patterns of mental processes that impact how people socially relate to others or view themselves) discussed in this chapter were loneliness, depression, self-esteem, narcissism, Machiavellianism, empathy, and self-monitoring.
    • Complete the Keirsey Temperament Sorter®-II (KTS®-II; www.keirsey. com/sorter/register.aspx). After finding out your temperament, reflect on what your temperament says about how you interact with people interpersonally.
    • Watch the following interview conducted by Allan Gregg with Daniel Goleman (the individual who popularized emotional intelligence) ( watch?v=NeJ3FF1yFyc). After watching the interview with Goleman, what did you learn about emotional intelligence? How can you apply emotional intelligence in your own life?
    • Complete the Self-Monitoring Scale created by Mark Snyder ( After finishing the scale, what do your results say about your ability to adapt to changing interpersonal situations and contexts?

    This page titled 3.2: Personality and Perception in Intrapersonal Communication is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Jason S. Wrench, Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter & Katherine S. Thweatt (OpenSUNY) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.